The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday January 19th

Ex-Student Expelled From China After Protest

But Tina Bakatsias, a former UNC anthropology student and WXYC disc jockey, is one of six North Carolinians who were expelled from China on Feb. 15 after a thwarted Falun Gong demonstration in Tiananmen Square.

In total, more than 30 Americans were detained for protesting the treatment of Chinese Falun Gong practitioners.

Falun Gong, a practice loosely based on traditional Chinese religions and martial arts, encompasses three main principles: truth, compassion and forbearance.

In the mid-1990s, Falun Gong attracted tens of millions of followers. But Chinese officials banned its practice in 1999.

Bakatsias said she first heard of Falun Gong from a WXYC public service announcement in 1999. She stressed that Falun Gong is not a cult and that it has no political or religious agendas.

Bakatsias said she has grown calmer and more focused since first attending a Falun Gong workshop in Chapel Hill. But despite her peaceful attitude, she said she cannot sit back as Chinese citizens are punished for their practice.

"It was my duty to go to China as a Westerner and peacefully appeal for those who don't have a voice," she said.

Bakatsias said she and fellow U.S. Falun Gong practitioners planned the peaceful appeal for Feb. 14 because large crowds would be present for the annual Spring Festival in China.

But she said she still was shocked by the number of people -- and policemen -- who surrounded her as she entered Tiananmen Square that afternoon. At about 2 p.m., Bakatsias said, she and a friend each displayed a banner they had hidden within their clothing.

But Bakatsias barely had time to unfurl her golden banner with "Falun Gong is good" written in Chinese and English before she was thrown to the ground, she said.

She said she could only make out the shape of men's boots before she was yanked by her hair and pushed into a police van.

Bakatsias said she continued to yell that Falun Gong was good through the van window.

"If they couldn't see the banner, they could at least hear these words," she said.

Bakatsias said she and other detainees were first taken to a police station and then transported to a detention center for interrogations.

Although she was questioned in English, Bakatsias said the process was both unnerving and confusing.

The uncertainty lasted until the next morning, when Bakatsias was escorted onto a plane heading to Detroit.

Now that she is back in the United States, she plans to continue praising the merits of Falun Gong. Bakatsias said she would even like to go back to Beijing, if circumstances permit. "I'm not so sure about getting a visa now."

Bakatsias's friend Thai Ton, 34, also participated in the peaceful appeal at Tiananmen Square.

Ton, a UNC alumnus, said he discovered Falun Gong about four years ago over the Internet.

Ton, who is Vietnamese-American, said he thinks his Asian descent influenced his treatment in Beijing. He was separated from the other protesters until police discovered he couldn't understand Chinese, he said.

Ton said he was then brought to the detention center, where the peaceful protest continued. "There were two German girls singing a Falun Gong song about being virtuous and kind," he said. "The policemen just sat there and listened to them. You could hear a pin drop."

Ton said that although police tackled him, stepped on his head and took his Palm Pilot and wallet, he feels fortunate that he was not seriously injured.

He said he is not finished protesting the country's treatment of Falun Gong adherents.

Ton said, "I am going to do what I can do to raise awareness, whether overseas or at home."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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